Tooth Decay and Good Health
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. We hear a lot in the media today about unhealthy outcomes for children related to poor diets and lack of exercise that can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease. However, there is a lot of information regarding the health impacts on our teeth as a direct correlation to what we eat. The Georgia PTA thanks Dr. Chris Lee of Waldron Dentistry, who has provided some very important information for all parents:
Dental Health and Sugar Sweetened Beverages
The CDC states tooth decay is, “one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood in the United States. Untreated tooth decay can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing and learning.” Cavities leading to pain and infection are also one of the leading causes of missed school.
In order for the decay process to begin, a person must have three things; bacteria, sugar and a tooth. Bacteria is very good at sticking to tooth surfaces by way of plaque, a soft sticky film. Certain bacteria are better at causing cavities than others. While a vast majority of them are good and provide a benefit to us, there are also many that feed off the sugar we eat. The byproduct of them breaking down this sugar is a release of acid. Teeth are in a constant state of demineralization by this acid and remineralization by our saliva as well as fluoride found in drinking water and other places. Unfortunately we have no control over the types of bacteria we have but we can try to limit their numbers and ability to stick to the teeth by brushing at least twice and day, flossing at least once and maintaining regular dental cleanings and check-ups. Not only can we try to limit the amount of bacteria in our mouth, we can also control what they eat. Without sugar, there would be no decay. Cutting down on the amounts and types of sugar you and your children eat can go a long way in preventing cavities from beginning to form.
Decay can form on all surfaces of teeth which means flossing is just as important as brushing. Routine x-rays will help to find cavities in between the teeth and below the enamel surface which cannot normally be seen by just looking. Often times when somebody notices darkening of a tooth at home, it means a cavity has gotten fairly large. The second layer of the tooth, the dentin, is softer than the enamel and once a cavity hits it, it can spread rapidly. Once decay is diagnosed, it is best to get a filling placed as quickly as possible to hopefully avoid a root canal, crown or premature tooth loss.
While we know sweets like candy bars and desserts or drinks like soda are high in sugar and can cause cavities, there are many foods, including some that are very good for you, that have high sugar contents. Below are some of those foods.
- Sugar sweetened coffee, tea or other drinks
- Sports drinks
- Juices like orange and apple juice
- Lime, lemons, oranges and grapefruit
- Raisins and other dried fruits
Just because a food that is typically healthy may have a high amount of sugar, it doesn’t mean it should be entirely avoided. So what can be done besides brushing and flossing to help prevent cavities?
- Be aware of when something with a lot of sugar is going to be consumed. It is often best to brush prior to eating so the numbers of bacteria are limited and to rinse the mouth with water following eating in order to neutralize some of the acid build-up.
- High sugar foods and drinks should be consumed quickly instead of snacking or sipping all day and continually giving the bacteria a source of sugar. Drinks can also be artificially sweetened. However, many diet drinks are also already high in acid.
- There are gums and mints available that have natural sugars, such as Xylitol, which cannot be broken down by bacteria and therefore don’t cause cavities. Pay attention to labels to see what the source of sugar is. Trident is one of the brands which uses Xylitol.
- Fluoride mouth rinses as well as application of fluoride at the dental office can help remineralize and strengthen teeth. Prescription strength tooth pastes are also available for those that are more susceptible to decay.
Written by Dr. Chris Lee of Waldron Dentistry in Marietta, GA